Beirut: An alleged plot to assassinate the leader of Hezbollah group aims to plunge Lebanon into an Iraq-style sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites, Lebanese politicians said yesterday.
While reacting with shock and dismay to the alleged plot against Hezbollah leader Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah, politicians on both sides of the sectarian fence also expressed satisfaction with the capture by Lebanese authorities of members of a gang that planned to carry out terrorist acts.
Lebanon's top military magistrate on Tuesday formally charged and issued arrest warrants against nine people for plotting to carry out terror attacks, including the possible assassination of Nasrallah.
Based on the suspects' preliminary testimonies to a military prosecutor, military magistrate Rashid Mezher charged the nine with "establishing a gang to carry out terrorist acts, undermining the state's authority and trading in and transporting military arms and explosives." Mezher said by phone that he will question the nine eight Lebanese and a Palestinian today.
He added six other members of the ring were still at large.
Officials have not said if a country or organisation is believed to be behind the cell.
On Monday, a senior Lebanese military official said the plot against Nasrallah was "in the phase of intentions" and had not reached "the phase of implementation."
The reported plot to kill one of Lebanon's top Shiite clerics and politicians by rockets came as fears of sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis have rippled through the Middle East.
Both Nasrallah and the main political leader of Lebanon's Sunnis, Sa'ad Hariri, son of slain former premier Rafik Hariri, have pledged not to allow any attempt to foment Sunni-Shiite strife.
Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalife warned that the cycle of violence in Iraq might spread to other countries in the region.
Foiling this "terrible conspiracy ... spared the country disasters with no limits," said former prime minister Salim Hoss, a moderate Sunni politician.
Referring to the sectarian violence in Iraq, Hoss said, "All [Lebanese] are concerned that there are some [people] in Lebanon who want to spread the [Iraqi] contagion to our country." "God still loves Lebanon," Christian leader Gen Michel Aoun said on the arrests.